Sunday, May 14, 2006
England Made Me
I've been rereading Jeremy Paxman's excellent The English: A Portrait of a People, and it's got me mentally contemplating just what it is to be English these days. I say 'these days' because the archetype English men and women that we all think of don't really exist any more. At least I never bump into anyone like the characters in Brief Encounter or In Which We Serve. The old Imperial types, 'The Breed' churned out by the public schools to run the Empire (ie shoot the natives and nick all their stuff. Right on!) Whatever happened to the stiff upper lip? Turn on any talk show or talent contest and every loser blubs as if it's the end of their world. Bring back national service, I say. God help us if there's a war, and so on...
I'm no crazy St George's flag waving patriot, but I still like the English in as much as I like any collection of people. Historically, we've done some pretty unpleasant things (hello slavery, sorry Ireland, Scotland, Wales... and the rest of the Empire, etc etc), but since the war we've been alright really. We gave back the Empire without too much fuss, said sorry, packed up the flags and sailed home. We've invited people from all over the world to settle here in return, and considering the huge amount of immigration there's been, it's all been rather good, hasn't it? The far right still barely register in elections, and those proclaiming that multiculturalism doesn't work obviously aren't in touch with what's actually going on on the streets. Sure, it ain't perfect, but it ain't terrible either. We all get on rather well, I think. We've never had a far right or far left government. We care passionately about personal freedom and individuality.
Personally, being English suits me just fine. Great Britain has always been a mongrel nation, being made up of English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, all with further regional distinctions. We're made up of Angles, Saxons, Celts, Scandinavians, Jutes, Romans, Norman French, and I read somewhere that because of the slave trade, something like 50% of native Londoners have African blood somewhere down the line. I have a pretty unremarkable lineage, one of my Grandads was a cockney, I've got a London family since as long as anyone can remember. I've got a bit of Irish blood, but that's about it. My fair skin and hair could be Celtic, German or Scandinavian.
Under the skin, I'm also fairly traditional English, if there is such a thing. Sure, I wear American skate shoes, listen to French music, love Italian food and remain fascinated by Japanese culture, but I'm about as English as it gets. To me it's fair play, cricket, football, a good drink, a slightly warped sense of humour, distrust of authority, a nice Sunday roast, punk rock and acid house, complaining about the weather, hot cross buns, a belief in personal privacy that tips into stand-offishness, a certain arrogance about foreign climes based on the fact that there's no place like home, but also a genuine affection for other peoples and a willingness to embrace new things, a wonderful language that we're lucky the rest of the world understands. That's just me, I'm sure there are lots more good and certainly bad things about us islanders.
So, brothers and sisters, what do you think about being English? And our lovely foreign chums, what do you really think of us Englanders? Be honest... It's the only way we'll learn!
|All opinions expressed within the pages and comments of this blog are solely those of the author, and not of his employers or associates. If you have any complaints, corrections or queries regarding any of the material contained within, please contact the author via email. Thanks for reading!